Published by The Blavatsky Archives Online. Online Edition copyright 2000.
Report of the General Meeting
Reprinted from Journal of the Society for Psychical Research
(London) June 1885, pp. 418-424.
This online edition is reprinted with permission
of the Society for Psychical Research, London.
[At this SPR meeting of May 29, 1885 (following talks on mesmerism and card experiments), Richard Hodgson presented some of the results of his investigation
regarding Madame Blavatsky's occult phenomena. See also the continuation
of Hodgson's talk at a second meeting of the SPR held on June 26, 1885.
For more online information about the Hodgson Report,
consult works by Carrithers, Harrison, Hodgson, Knoche, and Studd.
For more details on what is cited by Henry Sidgwick and Hodgson, see the Hodgson Report. For H.P. Blavatsky's comments on what was said at these meetings,
see Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to A.P. Sinnett, Letters XLIV, XLV,
and XLVI (especially pp. 108-109.)---BAO Editor.]
A General Meeting of the Society [for Psychical Research] was held on the evening of Friday, May 29th,  at the Rooms of the Society of British Artists, Suffolk-street, Pall Mall.
In the absence of the President, and of any Vice-President, the chair was taken by Mr. F. W. H. Myers.
The first paper on the agenda was by Messrs. E. Gurney and F. W. H. Myers, and dealt with Some Higher Aspects of Mesmerism. A brief sketch was given of the difficulties with which this branch of the subject had had to contend, and of the sort of criticism to which it had been exposed. It was pointed out that, though a very large amount of the testimony to mesmeric cures and to the beneficial effects of mesmeric treatment was of a loose and uninstructive kind, and though the whole subject was encumbered with wild and ignorant theory, a certain residue of cases were on record which seemed to stand on a different footing, and which, whether they deserved careful attention or not, had certainly never received it. Esdailes evidence as to his treatment of Hindoo patients was referred to; and a case was quoted to show that all the well-attested results could not be explained as merely hypnotic in character. An attempt was made to classify the cases in which mesmeric therapeutics appear at any rate worth a trial; but at the same time the chance of any wide success in England was admitted to be small --- few operators seeming to possess the faculty in sufficient strength to produce specific effects on English patients.
Dr. Wyld remarked that he had listened with great pleasure to the paper which had been read, and that, as the result of 40 years experience, he could entirely corroborate all that it contained. He wished to refer specially to the curative power of mesmerism in neuralgia, and to assure those who suffered from it that in the great majority of cases mesmerism offered a speedy and often a permanent cure.
Mr Gurney then made a few remarks on the importance of having M. Richets card experiments (Proceedings, Part VII., pp. 241-3) repeated on a wide scale. Any couple of persons, with a very small expenditure of time and trouble, can make a valuable contribution to the very large total of results required. It is best to use a pack from which the picture-cards of each suit have been removed. The remaining 40 cards are held by A, who, for each experiment, brings a fresh card to the surface of the pack by a random cut. He fixes his attention on this exposed card, and B, sitting a little way off, out of sight of the pack, makes a guess at the suit. If the guess is wrong, A makes a small horizontal mark on a sheet of foolscap in front of him; if the guess is right, he makes a perpendicular mark. After 50 such trials (which can be made, according to Mr. Gurneys experience, in less than ten minutes), there will be a column of 50 marks on the paper. A then goes through this column, making crosses of the perpendicular marks, and counting the crosses.(1) This, of course, gives the total number of right guesses for the day, and this total is recorded at the bottom of the column. After the process has been gone through on 20 days, 1,000 guesses will have been made; and the numbers at the bottom of the columns, being added together, will give the complete total of crosses or right guesses. The most probable number of guesses for pure chance to give is, of course, a quarter of the 1,000 (there being always one chance in four of guessing the suit correctly), i.e., 250. The point which it is desired to ascertain is whether in the whole, or in a large majority, of the sets of 1,000 guesses each, the number of right guesses will exceed 250. If that proves to be the case, it will be a strong argument for the operation of something beyond pure chance; in other words, it will tend to show that a certain number of Bs right guesses have been due to the fact that the suit guessed was the one on which As attention was concentrated. A confident appeal is now made to Members and Associates of the Society for Psychical Research to give help in this direction. If a hundred of them would devote a few minutes a day for three weeks to carrying out the 1,000 trials with some friend or relative, a month would produce what is needed. A hundred records of the sort described are urgently needed before the end of July.
The Chairman, in introducing Mr. Hodgson to the meeting, explained that the actual Report of the Committee appointed to investigate the evidence for marvellous phenomena connected with the Theosophical Society was not yet prepared, but that the conclusions which Mr. Hodgson was about to give as the result of his personal investigations commanded the general assent of the Committee. He pointed out how very extensive and prolonged Mr. Hodgsons inquiry had been, and how absolutely necessary, if any satisfactory elucidation of the facts was to be reached. The evidence of the Coulombs was, of course, worthless so long as it was unsupported, and the editors of the Christian College Magazine (who had performed a delicate task with much tact and temper) were, of course, unable to get at the Theosophic witnesses and prove, or disprove, the Coulombs statements by comparison with other evidence, with the actual localities, &c. Mr. Hodgson, who had been very justly accepted by both parties as an impartial inquirer, had had opportunities which no one else had enjoyed of learning the facts from every quarter. He had spent three months in India in this inquiry, not only investigating all the allegations made by the Coulombs, but other equally important points. The result of his investigations was one which could hardly give pleasure to any party. No one interested in psychical research could hear with satisfaction that so great a mass of apparently well-attested phenomena were, in fact, referable to fraud and credulity. And the matter was made worse by the pain which would thus be given to many persons who had believed that the noble philosophies of the East were being now recommended to mankind by genuine evidences of power over nature. A scientific committee, however, could do no more than allude to considerations of this sort. Its duty was simply to examine the alleged facts without prejudice, and to state its conclusions without reserve. Few, he thought, would be disposed to refuse credit for candour and acumen to the Committees representative in this affair, on whom he now called for an account of some of his investigations.
Mr. Hodgson began by stating that in November of last year he proceeded to India for the purpose of investigating on the spot the claims of Theosophical phenomena, and that he went not indisposed to believe in their genuineness. He referred to the charges of fraud brought against Madame Blavatsky by the Coulombs, and supported by letters alleged by them to have been written by Madame Blavatsky, but asserted by the latter to be forgeries. It was important to determine whether these letters were genuine or not. It was also of the utmost importance to determine the competency of the witnesses to phenomena in India, especially of Mr. Damodar, Mr. Babajee, and Colonel Olcott.
After a careful examination, Mr. Hodgson concluded that the disputed letters were written by Madame Blavatsky, and the well-known caligraphic experts, Messrs. Netherclift and Sims, were also of the same opinion. It appeared from these letters that a large number of the alleged Theosophical phenomena were ingenious trickeries, carried out by Madame Blavatsky with the assistance chiefly of the Coulombs. But further investigations were required to determine whether certain other phenomena not mentioned in these letters were fraudulent or not, e.g., the astral journeys of Mr. Damodar; and to determine also whether circumstantial evidence confirmed the decision of experts as to the genuineness of the disputed letters.
Mr. Hodgson stated that after a thorough survey of the evidence, he had concluded that the Theosophical phenomena formed part of a system of fraud worked by Madame Blavatsky, with the assistance of the Coulombs and several other confederates, and that none of the phenomena were genuine. Mr. Damodar he found to be quite untrustworthy, and was compelled to regard as a confederate in the fraud. Mr. Babajee was also involved as a confederate, but in a less degree. Colonel Olcotts evidence, he thought, varied so greatly from fact that it became impossible for him to place any value upon it, and he stated that Mr. Mohinis evidence would not bear comparison with the statements of others. The witnesses generally in India, he found to be excessively credulous, excessively bad observers, and many of them prone to culpable exaggeration. It was impossible, he said, to enter into all the details of so complicated an investigation, and in the short time at his disposal he could give only a few instances by way of exemplification of the statements made. He then read a passage from one of the Blavatsky-Coulomb letters concerning the so-called Adyar Saucer, which showed that Madame Blavatsky had made some arrangement with Madame Coulomb for the performance of a phenomenon which should edify Major-General Morgan. This saucer was placed in the Shrine or cupboard leaning against the door, so that when Madame Coulomb opened the door, in Major-General Morgans presence, the saucer fell and was broken. The pieces were collected and placed in the Shrine, and after a short interval an unbroken saucer was found instead of the pieces. Two accounts of the incident by General Morgan were read. Madame Coulomb asserted that the broken pieces were taken out through the back of the Shrine by M. Coulomb, and a whole saucer (the second of a pair) substituted. From General Morgans accounts it appeared that this might easily have been done. Mr. Hodgson then gave a brief history of the Shrine and its surroundings, explaining his remarks by the help of various diagrams. It appeared that letters and other objects might be taken out from or inserted in the Shrine by means of a sliding panel and holes communicating between the Shrine and that portion of the adjoining room used by Madame Blavatsky as her bedroom. In consequence of the discovery of a sliding panel in the back of the Shrine, certain Theosophists removed the Shrine secretly and destroyed it. Statements made by Mr. Damodar were then commented upon by Mr. Hodgson, who showed that Mr. Damodars evidence exhibited deliberate falsehoods, and that Mr. Damodar was morally untrustworthy.
Mr. Hodgson then briefly instanced to statements from Colonel Olcotts deposition for the purpose of exemplifying how unreliable he was compelled to regard Colonel Olcotts evidence.
Mr. Mohini, speaking for himself, and on his own private responsibility, said that he should not feel satisfied without explicitly asserting that Theosophy was entirely independent of any phenomena. He objected to the term Theosophical Phenomena. There were no phenomena which could be thus correctly designated. If any persons were found to be guilty of fraud they would be dealt with in a proper manner. Referring to what Mr. Hodgson had said of himself personally, Mr. Mohini protested against being judged behind his back, and said that the promised opportunity had not been afforded him of explaining certain alleged discrepancies in statements he had made. Mr. Mohini spoke at some length of those higher principles of Theosophy, to the study of which he had devoted himself, which were among his cherished convictions, and which did not rest on the truth or falsehood of any phenomena. (See p. 448.)
The Chairman said that the phrase Theosophical Phenomena would be avoided, and again explained that nothing whatever beyond phenomena was being dealt with. He also promised that full opportunity would be given to Mr. Mohini for discussion and explanation, and said that his not having yet had such opportunity was due to the accident of Mr. Sinnetts being in Paris, so that Mr. Hodgsons attempt at an arrangement for a second private meeting in London fell through. He had had one meeting with Mr. Sinnett, and was to have had another, at which he hoped to meet Mr. Mohini. In fact, the Report itself was not yet drawn up.
Mr. Keightley explained to the meeting, on behalf of Mr. Sinnett, that he was in Paris, or he would have been present on this occasion.
Mr. Hodgson said that it was his desire that everything should be done with the utmost possible fairness. He should be glad to afford Mr. Mohini every opportunity either then, or at a private conference, for discussion, and to fall in with any arrangements that might be suggested.
Mr. C. C. Massey spoke warmly in defence of his friend Colonel Olcott. He had listened in vain for facts which would justify the remarks Mr. Hodgson had made. He considered the two cases of Colonel Olcotts inaccuracy which had been quoted to be very weak. But even if compelled to admit that Colonel Olcott was not a man of what he might call a strictly accurate mind, he should still believe him entirely incapable of any deliberate misstatement.
Mr. Hodgson, in reply, explained that Mr. Massey had misunderstood him. He had distinctly not intended to impute any wilful misrepresentation to Colonel Olcott; merely to state that his evidence was in many cases unreliable. Mr. Hodgson proceeded to explain with more detail, the two instances he had referred to.
Mr. Massey expressed himself satisfied if Mr. Hodgson did not impute fraud, but it had appeared to him that no sufficient distinction had been drawn between Colonel Olcott and others.
Mr. Young, who stated himself to be acquainted with India, and with many there who were interested in Theosophy, said that in his opinion these phenomena seemed to be a fundamental part of Madame Blavatskys faith and an essential portion of her system. She was the founder of the Theosophical Society, and he thought it was unfair to say that Theosophy was unshaken by her exposure.
Mr. Mohini said that the last speaker appeared to misunderstand what Theosophy was. He referred to the rules of the Theosophical Society, and said that Theosophists as a body had no creed, and that there was no logical connection between Madame Blavatsky and Theosophy.
Dr. Wyld differed essentially from the views taken by Mr. Mohini, and contended that Madame Blavatsky possessed a grossly materialistic mind, and could have no claims to call herself a Theosophist in the true sense. She had, however, apparently with the assistance of several accomplices, concocted a system most illogically called Theosophy; and he held that the reliability of her teachings, whatever they were, collapsed with herself.
Mr. James A. Campbell spoke of Madame Blavatsky as being unquestionably a powerful physical medium, and he thought that those who could testify to this ought to come forward with what they knew. He thought that in judging her, the nature of the influences with which she had been surrounded ought to be taken into consideration. There appeared no doubt as to frauds having been committed; but, on the other hand, Madame Blavatsky had devoted her life to the cause she professed to have at heart.
Miss Arundale inquired whether the exposure of alleged phenomena in India disproved phenomena here.
The Chairman, in conclusion, explained that in describing certain evidence as unreliable, no accusation of bad faith was implied. In matters of this marvellous kind the Society had always felt the need not only of good faith, but of exactness of memory and some reasonable amount of acumen on the part of witnesses whose statements were to be considered of value. In the opinion of the Committee Colonel Olcotts honour could be saved at the expense of his intelligence. The list of persons whom Mr. Hodgson felt bound to accuse of complicity in fraud was, he believed, a very short one, and in great measure composed of personal dependents of Madame Blavatskys, attached to her by gratitude, and some of them perhaps hardly realising the moral guilt involved. As regards Miss Arundales question, the Committee undoubtedly felt bound to consider each phenomenon submitted to them on its own merits. At the same time, if a large number of typical phenomena were demonstrably due to fraud, the Committee need hardly attach great importance to a few residual cases which still were difficult to explain. They would be very happy to receive any further evidence which might be laid before them, before the next meeting, which would be held on June 26th, and at which Mr. Hodgson would go into the question of the authorship of the so-called Mahatmas letters. Recent Theosophy, as set forth in Esoteric Buddhism, apparently rested mainly on these letters; although, as Mr. Mohini had justly remarked, the truth or error of the great principles of ancient Eastern Philosophy was a question quite independent of the genuineness or falsity of modern phenomena.
The meeting then assumed a conversational character, and was continued till a late hour.
(1) The reason for not making a cross to begin with is that a cross requires two marks, and B may learn, by hearing the double sound of the pencil on some occasions and the single sound on others, when he has been right and when wrong. It is important that his mind should not be distracted by any knowledge of his successes and failures.